Ok, this talk is from way back in the stone ages (2004), but the message is eternally relevant. Ricard is a French scientist who turned Buddhist monk in the Himalayas. His scientific western mind syncs well with my own, making his framing of happiness as really “well being” is very accessible to me. This is really a deep dive into how/why we “search for happiness” and how that search is in vain and going for the wrong goal. Why do so many people “search for happiness” through conditions (get this car, get that place, do x, y, z) yet so few are successful. By reframing the search and reframing the goal away from conditions and toward inner strengths, success is possible. Ricard describes how to build the INNER conditions that are the real foundations of true happiness.
I used to think philisophy was for academics. Then I grew up and recognized many of the timeless philosophical questions repeating themselves in my own life.
The primary one of course is “How does one live this life?” Actually this death. Because we all are born to die. We are trying to do this very difficult thing – living and dying – as well as we can. We can let circumstances push us around and passively be a passenger on the trip. Or we can engage our reasoned choice of how, why, and what for to live. In that way we must become philosophers.
The philosophers who have made the most sense to me are the Stoics. The don’t ask us to believe in anything really. Just to wake up, contemplate, pause, question and decide for yourself. A pretty good program I must say.
The jesuits believe this as well. A very old stoic idea. The only permanent thing is prohairesis, our capacity for reasoned choice. Everything outside our control, outside our reasoned choice, is an attachment that will change and likely keeps from free will.
My instant gratification monkey is great at telling me stories that make me feel good about doing shit that he wants to do, while my rational mind knows that shit stinks. The best tool I have found to overcoming these feel good stories that support unwanted habits or behavior is the bright shiny sunlight of AWARENESS, DATA AND FACTS. One such exercise is 15 Minutes of Honesty. Today I have the mythbuster which destroys the “I am good at Multitasking” story, one of my monkey’s favorites:
1 Minute Proof that I suck at Multitasking.
For most of us, the rational mind has convinced the monkey that texting and driving sucks, but we continue to believe the monkey at work, with friends and around the house. The monkey mind LOVES multitasking. Jumping around between things feels like engagement. Feels like a lot is getting done. Many people and things need my attention. So many that I have to spread myself thin. It makes me feel important, needed, worthwhile. Multitasking implies that we are working on multiple tasks simultaneously and in total getting more done (says the monkey). But the human brain isn’t able to focus on more than one thing at a time, so what are actually doing is RAPID TASK SWITCHING and the research shows a significant switching cost overhead associated with this process. In some cases it can be 100% overhead meaning it takes TWICE as long to complete two tasks done with rapid switching instead of in serial (one at a time).
Okay, okay says my monkey, sure I hear you, but I don’t really believe you. Those university studies are done on drugged up grad students (not smart monkeys like me), I am WAY more productive than them! I am great at multitasking!
Okay Monkey, let’s put that to the test.
Grab a piece of blank paper, a pen and a stopwatch. Your task is to draw two lines and write a sentence on one line and a series of numbers on the second line. On the first line write “I am great at multitasking.” On the second line write the numbers 1-20 in series. The goal is to end up with one line with the sentence and one line with the number series. But we are going to perform the tasks two different ways and time ourselves doing each method.
Method 1: Separate Task in Series: First, do the tasks in Series, one after each other, focusing only on the immediate task at hand each time. Draw the first line, write the sentence “I am great at multitasking”. Draw the second line, write the numbers 1-20 in order. Start the stopwatch when you begin and stop when finished. Write down the time.
Method 2: Multitasking/Rapid task switching: Switch between tasks as you are doing them. Draw the first line. Write “I”. Draw the Second line. Write “1”. Go up to the first line, make a space, then write the letter “a”. Down to the second line, write the number “2”. Now back up to the first line, write the “m” of “am”. Down to the second line for “3”… And so on until you have the two lines done. Write down that time.
Here is my piece of paper from this morning.
Serial :24 seconds, Multi :50 seconds. Oh, the monkey doesn’t like that. The tasks are the same. The time to compete 2X! “I can do better” my monkey says. So I do it 10 more times. Trying every trick I can think of to improve the multitask scenario. After 10 iterations, average time to complete: Serial :22 seconds, Multi :50 seconds. So I actually got better at doing the tasks in serial (practice), but the switching costs of multitasking kept my performance stuck.
Being a nerd, I dug a bit deeper. What exactly is going on that causes 100% overhead during multitasking? A few things I observed in this particular exercise include:
Physical movement between task space. In serial, I write the sentence from left to right all at once, one letter next to the other. In multi, I have to move the pen between the lines, find the correct place to put the letter or number, and start. This movement time, while small, is probably about 80% of the time to even write one letter or number. While the impact of physical movement in this particular exercise may be outsized versus other multitasking scenarios, the effect can still be significant. Even moving the mouse to switch between applications, or navigate around your phone. In this exercise I estimate that Physical movement explains about 80% of the variance.
Mental reset (reconfiguring your control settings). Writing numbers and letters are different. Each time you switch you have to try to remember your place in the task, figure out what to do next, then do it. That mental framing, “getting into the task” takes time. For a simple task like this it was small, maybe 10% of the variance in this exercise, but in some tasks like writing a novel, it can be very large.
Cognitive stress. While the mind can’t focus on more than one thing at a time, having more than one thing pressing on you can cause the stress of the impending task to weigh on the current task. I found this often in the exercise, writing a number and already thinking ahead to what letter I had to write next. Thinking of task 1 during task 2 made task 2 take longer to complete. In this exercise I estimate cognitive stress explains about 5% of the variance.
Task volume explosion. When doing the tasks in Series, you have basically four sub-tasks. 1. Draw a line. 2. Write a sentence. 3. Draw a line. 4. Write a series of numbers. When done Multitasking, there are 44 sub-tasks (10x!). Draw line (x2), Write Letter (x22), Write number (x20). It takes more mental energy to check off 44 things than it does to check off 4 things. In this exercise I estimate that Task Volume Explosion explains about 5% of the variance.
Ok, so exercise done, variance explained, Monkey convinced right? Well I hope so, but this is one that keeps coming back like a bad penny. Today I am aware, but then I get busy and the Monkey comes back with extra Trumpesk confidence “I am great at multitasking”. So bookmark this post. Whenever you hear the monkey’s story, redo the exercise. Spend time on the analysis. Let it sink in. Eventually you may change the Monkey’s story.
Like how I used the Monkey’s own story to prove the absurdity of the story? Change the story, change yourself. Remember the Monkey believes stories it believes/feels to be true. The stories are in his(your) head due to some kind of confirmation or learning in the past. At one time, the story may have even been correct or have served a valuable purpose. Or it may have been implanted there falsely (say by a large conglomerate (Apple, Microsoft, Google, et al) trying to sell you productivity tools/technology) by advertising or media.
Here at DGC we like to practice contemplation and give you practical tools to analyze where you are in life and if it is all going the best it can for you. A key tactic in this journey is to Know your Stories (the monkey’s and everyone else’s) and then ASK IF THOSE STORIES ARE STILL SERVING YOU on a regular basis. Compare the Stories against the facts. In the case of the “I am great at multitasking” story, a fairly simple one minute exercise lays bare the truth. Many times it only takes changing one word in the story. Repeat that story enough and it will become the Monkey’s story. My truth about multitasking? Say it with me: “I suck at multitasking!” Convince your monkey of this and productivity will skyrocket!
Gainful unemployment has gotten a bad rap as basically lazy freeloaders leaching off society who can’t risk losing benefits by getting a real job.
I am trying to rehabilitate gainful unemployment. Or take “gainful employment” down a notch. Often “gainful employment” involves slavish dedication to someone else’s goals in exchange for money that maybe some day you can make enough of to finally pursue your own path. Employment implies working for “The Man”. Usually all the money gets consumed maintaining the support systems around earning the money and the hamster wheel spins ever faster. Regardless of income level. Stepping off or being kicked off the hamster wheel often elicits a truly Orwellian desire to get back on. Western society teaches us that “gainful employment” fundamental to everything it means to be alive. I have a problem with that thesis.
What if unemployment was simply not working for The Man. What if rather than demonizing the unemployed as lazy freeloaders, we encouraged them to take the time to examine their path and find work that more authentically fit their true selves? Recently I have been running into more people who are getting it right. After reading The Journey Home by Radhanath Swami, about the revered path of a wandering mendicant in India, I was struck by the stark contrast in how the unemployed are treated. In India or Tibet, a buy on the street begging might just be an enlightened guru. In America that thought wouldn’t even cross anyone’s mind. The Puritan’s sure did a number on us our collective consciousness when they implanted “hard work” = “good person”, “no work” = “sinner, devil” into our collective consciousness. What if more people took time pause and consider their path? What if we encouraged it? Contemplation of your path is the “gainful” part. If more people were living in alignment with their strengths and authentic selves, wouldn’t we all be better off? Sometimes that takes a couple tries, and a couple pivots and pauses.
For the last three years I have considered myself “gainfully unemployed”. I have not had a boss, nor have I been the boss of anyone. While not on a 9-5 schedule, I have pursued many projects and activities to help myself and others. I have spent quite a bit of time contemplating the path, the goals, the type and form of goals, exploring various diversions, and connecting with many people and places. I have invested time and money into many projects across the spectrum. This blog is part of this contemplation path. While I don’ t know what the exact destination is, there is alot of activity. Sometimes it is better to journey than to arrive.
So “gainfully unemployed” is actively taking time to contemplate and explore the path in life on your own terms. Something I highly recommend for at least a year for everyone who can.
Read this story about Joseph Heller ( author of catch 22) today on quora. Fits right in with some other thoughts I have been having about happiness.
As the new year is upon us and many people are thinking about what they want to do different in the new year than last I have been hearing many things that all basically come back to ” I want more”. Whenever I want more it has always lead to unhappieness. What I am starting to realize is that is not the lack of the thing that causes the sadness (because after getting the thing I have never ever been completely satisfied). It is the search for more (or less) that is the source of the unhappieness. The key is to accept “enough” and enjoy the now.
Last year my New Years resolution was to end the year with less stuff than I started. I was on a paring down kick. I completely failed. Oh sure I went though the garage and drove two trucks of stuff to the st Vincent de Paul and a load to the dump. But I also bought a bunch of new stuff all of which seemed absolutely necessary at the time despite my best overall intentions. One area of explosion was kids stuff. How does that stuff seem to multiply at 10x the rate of anything else in the house?
Have not figured out New Years resolutions incorporating these new learnings yet. But stay tuned.
Stop looking for it.
No really I mean it. Some questions start out from a bad place that makes the answer impossible or pre ordains certain categories of answers (or precludes others). The form of your question has this flaw.
Something that can be “gotten” must be a person, place or thing right? Something that can be found must have a path to it somehow. It must be a destination. It must be somehow discoverable to anyone with the right finding/getting tools.
In my experience happiness is something completely different. I find it much more part of the journey than the destination itself. Happiness comes in glimpses here and there. Happiness is only appreciated when it’s opposite is also experienced. In fact happiness is heightened greatly when in very close proximity to fear and pain.
In my experience there are three different modes of being in happiness and I need a good balance of all three to be able to answer the “are you happy” question in the affirmative.
Happiness of pleasure: physical as well as mental pleasure. All animals know this one.
Happiness of grace or gratitude: since I write this the day after Thanksgiving this should be top of mind while this form of happiness is typically taken for granted the rest of the year. This is the happiness you feel when being thankful or recognizing grace in your life. For noticing the things larger than yourself.
Happiness of excellence. A job well done makes one very happy. Doing hard work, yes going through unhappiness in service of something larger can lead to much greater happiness. This kind of happy can only be experienced after achieving a goal built on many failures and struggles.
So stop trying to get happiness as a possession.
Eat a piece of cake
Look up at the sun and be thankful for its warmth
Set a high goal and achieve it through hard work.
String enough of those experiences together, figure out how to create happiness on demand after any set back. Then when anyone asks you the question “are you happy” you will know how to answer yes.